US President George W Bush has said he and Barack Obama will discuss issues such as the global financial crisis and the war in Iraq “early next week”.
In a speech at the White House, Mr Bush congratulated the president-elect and said he would make every effort to ensure a smooth handover on 20 January.
Mr Obama was elected the first black US president on Tuesday with a resounding win over Republican rival John McCain.
Meanwhile, Rahm Emanuel has accepted the post of Mr Obama’s chief-of-staff.
I would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting. Bush is notoriously insecure around people who may be smarter than him — like the reporter who asked the French president a question in French (instead of “talkin’ American”, I guess), or the Irish reporter who dared probe beyond his trite homilies about “freedom” and “values”, but actually holding him accountable for a few things.
I can only imagine how he’ll handle meeting Obama, who is as popular as Bush is unpopular, and then some. In 2004, Bush won 286 electoral votes, 50.7% of the popular vote, and carried 31 states. In 2000, he won 271 electoral votes, 47.9% of the popular vote, and carried 30 states. By Contrast, Obama won 364 electoral votes, 52.5% of the popular vote (in an election that saw record turnout, and possibly the highest rate in 100 years), and carried 28 states, but — notably — won several states that Bush carried in 2004, and was competitive in states that should have been Republican strongholds.
Not only that, but Obama won an election that was largely a referendum on Bush, the Republican party, and their leadership. I wonder if Bush heard, in the White House, the cheers and honking horns as the city celebrated the impending end of his administration. For that matter I wonder if he’s gotten wind of the jubilant reactions all over the world. If he did, it would be easy to think that he wouldn’t care about it, but the anxiety just beneath the surface of his aloof exterior, if psychiatrist Justin Frank is right, wouldn’t be able to ignore it.
…I came to the conclusion that his entire life, from early on, has been dedicated to managing, through evasion—to managing his anxiety. That he was an overwhelmingly anxious person who built up layers and layers of different ways to protect himself from anxiety.
…There are lots of different ways of managing anxiety, and, there are several of them that have come out since he stopped drinking. But, of course, the first way to manage anxiety is through alcohol. But, by being a born-again Christian, he can also manage anxiety by being connected to God, by feeling that he’ll be saved in any kind of a rapture, by feeling that he’s always on the side of the Good.
There are lots of different ways of managing anxiety, and, there are several of them that have come out since he stopped drinking. But, of course, the first way to manage anxiety is through alcohol. But, by being a born-again Christian, he can also manage anxiety by being connected to God, by feeling that he’ll be saved in any kind of a rapture, by feeling that he’s always on the side of the Good.
Another way to manage anxiety is to make other people anxious, so he can project his anxiety into the rest of us. So we can experience the kind of anxiety—and the rest of the world does, in lots of ways, experience the kinds of anxiety that he must have felt as a child. Another way of managing anxiety is to simplify things; to divide the world, his own inner world, into good and bad, into black and white. And, we certainly see that in his Second Inaugural address today, where he talks about, the world is divided in half in terms of good and evil. So, it’s another way to manage anxiety.
Another way to manage anxiety is to be cruel to other people, by making them anxious, and by gratifying your own sense of power to compensate for feeling helpless.
And, finally, there is another way to manage anxiety, which is to become detached from the consequences of your behavior. Something that I call malign indifference, which is a repudiation, really, of the damage that you’ve done, and not taking responsibility for it.
That his policies or political philosophy are being blamed for the current financial crisis, his war in Iraq about as unpopular as he is, and his foreign policy aims unachieved has got to get under his skin, given his fear of being wrong. (There’s that anxiety thing again.)
Managing his anxiety is one reason presidential briefings have been so simple. USA Today reports on August 25 that Bush’s foreign policy briefings were, until very recently, presented to him with “snappy headlines” and simplistic perspectives leaving “little room for doubt or nuance.” No wonder it was so simple to invade Iraq.
Bush himself said that he doesn’t do nuance. The truth is, he can’t. Evading anxiety over all these years – whether with alcohol, religion, or exercise – has compromised his ability to think. Instead, Bush relies on daily routines. His bicycling routine is rigidly adhered to; but thinking-and a mechanism to facilitate it-are nonexistent.
The Financial Times of London had a headline on August 25 saying that the “US Army looks to leave Iraq” despite Bush himself saying things to the contrary. His rigidity of thought is not motivated by stubbornness, or by a fear of being wrong. It is safer for Bush to hold onto an idea that has served him in the past than to try a new one that might not work. His need for consistency leads to swift and vigorous responses to any threats that may challenge it.
Then there’s Obama himself; a man not from the kind of privileged background that Bush enjoyed, who nonetheless attended Harvard Law School (his father also went to Harvard), and went on to become president of the Harvard Law review. And he’s more beloved than Bush was even at the height of his popularity, mainly because the country and the world is counting on him to lead the way out of the disasters of Bush’s rule. Though a young man, Obama’s success story probably reminds Bush of his failure to live up to Poppy Bush’s legend.
Justin A. Frank, M.D.: … I think what he does is he turns everybody who disagrees with him into his father. It doesn’t matter whether it’s actually the concrete representation of his father, like Baker, or the voters who vote against staying in Iraq. We have become his father. We are the people he is now defying. He will turn everybody, any authority, anybody who disagrees with him, into a father figure who he’d have to defy.
BuzzFlash: And why? What’s his basic psychological beef with his father?
Justin A. Frank, M.D.: It would be nice to be able to reduce it to one thing. But there is one thing that is very clear, which is that his father was, as Bush was growing up, a superhero. He was an all-American baseball star. George W. Bush was “a jockstrap carrier,” or a cheerleader. His father was a war hero, and George W. Bush was a coward who avoided everything that involved responsibility. His father was a family man devoted to his family, and George W. Bush was a hard-drinking kid who was afraid of being responsible.
His father was all the things that Bush was not. He was a big, powerful man in Bush’s eyes — that’s the first thing. When Bush arrived at Andover, for instance, the prep school that he went to, his father’s pictures were all over the wall as having been a hero there twenty-five years earlier. The pictures are still up. So it was very hard to live up to him. The best way to deal with that is to either carve your own path, or to constantly undermine your father. One of the things that he did was, though, he became very loyal to his father, and in 1988, helped manage his campaign for President against Dukakis.
Plus he bested McCain and the Republicans at Bush’s bailout meeting.
Of course, chances are that Bush will behave himself. And even if he doesn’t Obama, with his legendary cool demeanor, will no doubt handle it well.
Still, I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one.